Dr. James Saker, BGSU alumnus and director of bands at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, with sophomore UNO band member Jack Kearney, who joined the surrogate pep band that supported the basketball Falcons in their NIT game at Creighton
Alum helps Falcons feel at home in Omaha
U.S. Route 6 connects Bowling Green with Omaha, Neb., about 650 miles to the west. On March 18, however, the highway wasn’t the only connection between the two Midwestern cities.
When BGSU’s men’s basketball team traveled to Omaha to face Creighton in the National Invitational Tournament, the Falcons were backed by a pep band formed by a BGSU alumnus who is now director of bands at the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO).
Dr. James Saker, a 1967 graduate, put together “BG Pep Band West” with 27 current and former UNO students—including several alumni who had been members of Power Play, the university’s hockey band—and Doug Babic, Power Play’s director.
Director of bands at UNO since 1978, Saker is also a professor of music at the university, which is located just west of Creighton in Omaha. UNO competes with BGSU in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association but, befitting its athletic teams’ “Mavericks” nickname, supported the basketball Falcons against its Nebraska neighbors.
Arrangements came together quickly after the March 15 announcement that Bowling Green would play at Creighton three days later. Plans were made to send the BGSU band and cheerleaders to Omaha, but the cost would have exceeded $25,000. Dr. Carol Hayward, an assistant professor of music education who directs the Falcon Marching and Athletic bands, and Dr. Bruce Moss, director of bands, then contacted Saker, who remains a Falcon sports fan, and asked if he would be interested in helping.
That wasn’t a problem for Saker, who noted that his first date with his now-wife of more than 40 years was at a BGSU basketball game.
While he and Babic began assembling the band—a task not helped by UNO’s spring break—Hayward faxed them copies of the BGSU fight song, “Ay Ziggy Zoomba” and other pep band music so the Nebraskans could learn it. At the same time, the University Bookstore filled an order of 30 T-shirts for the band members, paid for by the student affairs office.
“Jim is one of our most supportive alumni,” said Hayward about Saker, who was on campus in January 2008 as a guest conductor at the 50th annual Band Music Reading and Directors Clinic. “I had a hunch that he would be willing to help us with this, but getting it together while they are on spring break was really an amazing effort on their part, and we really appreciate it.”
Crediting Hayward for the idea, Moss added that “it did not take a lot of arm twisting” with their UNO colleagues. “They thought it was a cool idea,” he said.
After the game, Hayward heard from a Creighton staff member, Dana Olson, who, thinking the band was from BGSU, praised its sound and support of the Falcons. Olson was further impressed when Hayward, in a return email, related the story behind the band.
“This story has made my day,” Creighton’s director of information technology projects wrote both to Hayward and Saker. “It is heart-warming in these times to see how a group can creatively resolve financial issues through collaborative efforts.”
March 23, 2009